A gas explosion at a coal mine in China’s southwest Sichuan province has left as many as 41 people dead, making it the worst reported mining accident this year.
Authorities said one more worker was pulled out alive on Friday but five people remained trapped underground two days after the blast hit the Xiaojiawan mine on late Wednesday.
The incident is the latest in a string of fatal incidents for an industry with poor safety standards.
Emergency crews have pulled out 38 bodies, while three other workers were rescued but later died of their injuries, Xinhua, the state-controlled news agency, said.
Another 17 are being treated for serious injuries.
Rescue workers have struggled to access the area where the five miners are trapped, hampered by hot temperatures and high levels of poisonous carbon monoxide gas, the State Administration of Work Safety (SWAS) said on its website.
Fixing the ventilation system risked triggering a second explosion, it said, and the miners can only be reached by a narrow path.
The city government could not immediately be reached for comment, but a statement posted online confirmed that the death toll had risen to 41, up from 19 on Thursday.
It was the worst accident to hit China’s notoriously dangerous coal mining industry since an explosion last November in a mine in southwestern Yunnan province killed 43 people.
Authorities ordered that mine shut and fined the company $800,000, while 19 people were sent to face legal action, SWAS investigators said in a report this week.
They blamed the accident, estimated to have cost $6m in economic losses, on illegal operation and inadequate safety policies.
China’s mines are among the world’s deadliest due to lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency. Accidents are common because safety is often neglected by bosses seeking quick profits.
The latest official figures show 1,973 people died in coal mining accidents in China in 2011, a 19 per cent fall on the previous year.
Labour rights groups, however, say the actual death toll is likely to be much higher, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment.
It is not clear whether the five remaining trapped miners are still alive, but SWAS said more than 120 rescuers had been sent to the scene and emergency efforts continue.
Authorities have detained three mine owners and frozen the mine’s accounts while they investigate the incident and have begun discussing compensation with the victims’ families, the China Daily said.
China is the world’s leading consumer of coal, relying on the fossil fuel for 70 per cent of its growing energy needs.